Saturday, August 20, 2005

Peter Pan (Hogan, 2003)

The miracle of P.J. Hogan's Peter Pan is that it takes the single cheesiest moment in the history of children's theatre ("I do believe in fairies") and turns it into something genuinely powerful and emotional. I was very surprised to find myself in tears. This moment (and the entire film) works because Hogan has a firm grasp on the underlying metaphors. The growing chant is not simply a method to revive a temperamental pixie. It is an affirmation of the value of retaining imagination and innocence. The children must grow up. They must return to the real world. But they will take with them the lesson learned through their vivid fantasies -- that being an adult does not necessarily need to mean becoming cold and cruel. It does not need to mean becoming an automaton working an office job. It does not need to mean becoming a Hook. If we allow ourselves to temper our maturity with the spirit of childhood, then experience does not have to breed cynicism. Childish love can grow into emotions more complex, but no less valuable -- respect, tolerance, compassion, understanding.

Hogan arrives at this point by not softballing the children's fantasies in the rest of the film. Hook's stumpy arm is disturbingly real. The crocodile that pursues him is fierce and threatening. When Hook loses patience with his henchmen, they are shot dead. When Wendy feels attracted to the young boy who has invaded her bedroom, the sexual overtones are appropriately muted, but still palpable. A lesser production might have toned down these aspects and neutered the story's impact in the process. Hogan's Peter Pan has the courage to take childhood seriously and celebrate the sense of wonder and play that remains in any healthy adult.



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